Birmingham Conservatoire Chamber Choir has built a reputation as an outstanding chamber choir. They have recorded a CD annually for the last six years, eliciting high praise in the national press. On Friday 17 June, Paul Spicer leads the choir in a performance of music by John Joubert.
We spoke to Paul to find out more…
Who was it that chose the programme for this concert?
I chose the programme as a good opportunity for us to air much of the music we will be recording for Somm Records immediately after the end of term.
How successful is Joubert in writing for choirs, what does he do particularly well?
Joubert writes very challenging music for choirs and much of the music we are singing is very rarely heard. This is partly because Joubert is comparatively unknown except for a couple of carols, notably ‘Torches’ which we are NOT recording! His music is very personal, very emotional, very engaging, rather dark and intense. There is not a lot of light relief, though in the Three Portraits, he does let his hair down a bit.
What accompaniment will be used for these pieces, and how does that affect that the soundworld?
For this concert the only accompanied work is ‘South of the Line’ which is accompanied by two pianos, timpani and four percussion players. This, as you can imagine, creates a very individual sound world and each movement is slightly different with two movements being solos with piano only and one choral movement being only for percussion and voices. It is imaginative and powerful.
Joubert has a longstanding relationship with Birmingham, the University of Birmingham and Birmingham Conservatoire. What is the Chamber Choir’s relationship with him and his music? Have they performed much Joubert before?
We recorded a work I commissioned from John on our first chamber choir CD (To Music) which was written for my Finzi Singers: a setting of John Donne’s famous Hymne to God the Father. He attended the recording sessions as we hope he will do this time.
Will Joubert be at the concert?
Yes, he will be. He is now very frail as he turns 90 next year. But he has attended all our concerts featuring his music this year.
How important do you believe it is for young singers to sing in choirs?
It is one of the most important things they can do on many levels. Few of these young singers will go straight on to concert platforms and take starry roles for some time. Many good young singers take the route of singing in the wonderful professional choirs which we have in the UK. Singing at the professional level we do in the chamber choir here prepares them in the best way possible for this work. It is wonderful for their ears, for their sight-reading, for learning to mould their voices to a group dynamic and for the sprit de corps that comes with singing in a friendly and purposeful, high-achieving ensemble.
How important is it for you to work with choirs on a wide range of repertoire, from choral standards through to contemporary and perhaps experimental compositions?
Range of repertoire is important but we are severely hampered by lack of rehearsal time. It is amazing what is achieved in one weekly 2 hour rehearsal. So there is a practical side to choice of repertoire as well as being driven by what will work for our annual recording.
You are recording next month. Will that be all of the repertoire for this coming concert?
Yes, but we are doing more music on the disc than will be heard in the concert. There are some organ accompanied pieces, for instance, which we cannot do in the ABH.
The Chamber Choir’s CDs have been receiving rave reviews in recent years. What is it about the vocal department here which is producing such fine young choral singers?
The Birmingham Conservatoire has been on an upward trajectory for some years now and many excellent young singers choose to come to us over other places. It has a very good reputation. But the choir itself has a growing reputation which also helps the Vocal Department and the Conservatoire as a whole. We recently broadcast a concert on BBC Radio 3 for the first time which was repeated this week. The BBC Philharmonic approached me to ask for a collaboration (sadly not possible owing to date clashes) and the recordings we make achieve consistently fine reviews. We are always asked to give an annual concert in the Town Hall with City Organist Thomas Trotter. Compared with where this group was even a few years ago this exciting progress indeed.
Are there any exciting projects in the future with the Chamber Choir that you can tell us about?
No further projects at this time though a tour is what I would ideally like to achieve if funding could be found.
The concert begins at 7:30 in the Adrian Boult Hall, and tickets can be purchased here.